President George Albert Smith: A Noble Servant

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 195

President Thomas S. Monson, a counselor in the First Presidency, shared the following story about President George Albert Smith: “Junius Burt of Salt Lake City, a longtime worker in the Streets Department, related a touching and inspirational experience. He declared that on a cold winter morning, the street cleaning crew of which he was a member was removing large chunks of ice from the street gutters. The regular crew was assisted by temporary laborers who desperately needed the work. One such wore only a lightweight sweater and was suffering from the cold. A slender man with a well-groomed beard stopped by the crew and asked the worker, ‘You need more than that sweater on a morning like this. Where is your coat?’ The man replied that he had no coat to wear. The visitor then removed his own overcoat, handed it to the man and said, ‘This coat is yours. It is heavy wool and will keep you warm. I just work across the street.’ The street was South Temple. The good Samaritan who walked into the Church Administration Building to his daily work and without his coat was President George Albert Smith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His selfless act of generosity revealed his tender heart. Surely he was his brother’s keeper” (in Conference Report, Mar.–Apr. 1990, 62; orEnsign,May 1990, 47).

His Life (1870–1951)


Born on April 4 to John Henry Smith and Sarah Farr Smith in Salt Lake City


Age 21, served a mission in southern Utah


Age 22, married Lucy Emily Woodruff; she died in 1937


Age 22–24, served a mission in the southeastern United States; his wife Lucy joined him in the work


Age 33, ordained an Apostle by President Joseph F. Smith


Age 49–51, served as president of the European Mission


Age 51, became leader of the young men’s organization of the Church


Age 73, became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Age 75, sustained as President of the Church after the death of President Heber J. Grant


Age 81, died on his birthday, April 4, in Salt Lake City

His Presidency (1945–51)



Sent missionaries to many parts of the world where they had not been able to go because of World War II; dedicated the temple in Idaho Falls, Idaho


Began sending food and other supplies to the Saints in Europe who suffered after World War II


Early-morning seminaries began

The Life of President George Albert Smith

1. “George Albert Smith succeeded Heber J. Grant as Church President. President Smith, whose life was an example of the happiness found in gospel living, testified: ‘Every happiness and every joy that has been worthy of the name has been the result of keeping the commandments of God and observing his advice and counsel’ [in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 162].

2. “Obeying the commandments of God and the counsel of Church leaders had been a pattern of righteousness in President Smith’s family for generations. He was named for his paternal grandfather, George A. Smith, who was a cousin to the Prophet Joseph and a Counselor to President Brigham Young. George Albert’s father, John Henry Smith, served in the First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith. At the age of 33, George Albert Smith was called to the Quorum of the Twelve. From 1903 to 1910, John Henry and George Albert served together in the Quorum of the Twelve, the only time in this dispensation that a father and son have served together in that Quorum.

3. “George Albert Smith’s 42 years in the Quorum of the Twelve were filled with noble service, despite episodes of poor health. His eyes were damaged by the sun while surveying for the railroad in southern Utah, and surgery failed to correct his near blindness. Increased pressures and demands on his time weakened his frail body, and in 1909 he collapsed from exhaustion. The doctor’s order of complete rest eroded his self-confidence, created feelings of worthlessness, and aggravated his tension.

4. “During this difficult time, George had a dream in which he saw a beautiful forest near a large lake. After he had walked some distance through the forest, he recognized his beloved grandfather, George A. Smith, coming toward him. George hurried forward, but as his grandfather drew near, he stopped and said, ‘I would like to know what you have done with my name.’ A panorama of his life passed through George’s mind and he humbly replied, ‘I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.’ This dream renewed George’s spirit and physical stamina and he was soon able to return to work. Later he often described the experience as a major turning point in his life [George Albert Smith,Sharing the Gospel with Others,sel. Preston Nibley (1948), 110–12].

5. “During President George Albert Smith’s administration, which lasted from 1945 to 1951, the number of members in the Church reached one million; the temple in Idaho Falls, Idaho, was dedicated; and missionary work was resumed after World War II.

6. “Also, efforts were organized for relief of the European Saints who had become destitute as a result of the war. Church members in the United State s were encouraged to contribute clothing and other commodities. President Smith met with Harry S. Truman, president of the United States, to receive approval to send the collected food, clothing, and bedding to Europe. President Smith described the meeting in this way:

7. “President Truman said: ‘“What do you want to ship it over there for? Their money isn’t any good.”

8. “‘I said, “We don’t want their money.” He looked at me and asked: “You don’t mean you are going to give it to them?”

9. “‘I said: “Of course, we would give it to them. They are our brothers and sisters and are in distress. God has blessed us with a surplus, and we will be glad to send it if we can have the co-operation of the government.”

10. “‘He said: “You are on the right track,” and added, “we will be glad to help you in any way we can”’ [in Conference Report, Oct. 1947, 5–6].

Goods shipped overseas

11. “While the donations were being sorted and packaged in Utah to ship overseas, President Smith came to observe the preparations. Tears ran down his face when he saw the great volume of commodities that had been so generously contributed. After a few minutes he removed his new overcoat and said, ‘Please ship this.’ Although several people standing nearby told him that he needed his coat on the cold wintry day, he insisted that it be sent. [ Rudd,Pure Religion,248.]

12. “Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve was assigned to reopen the missions in Europe, to the distribution of relief supplies, and administer to the spiritual needs of the Saints. One of Elder Benson’s early visits was to a conference of the Saints in Karlsruhe, a German city on the Rhine River. Elder Benson said of the experience:

13. “‘We finally found our way to the meeting place, a partially bombed-out building located in the interior of a block. The Saints had been in session for some two hours waiting for us, hoping that we would come because the word had reached them that we might be there for the conference. And then for the first time in my life I saw almost an entire audience in tears as we walked up onto the platform, and they realized that at last, after six or seven long years, representatives from Zion, as they put it, had finally come back to them. … As I looked into their upturned faces, pale, thin, many of these Saints dressed in rags, some of them barefooted, I could the light of faith in their eyes as they bore testimony to the divinity of this great latter-day work, and expressed their gratitude for the blessings of the Lord’ [in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 154].

14. “Among his many responsibilities, Elder Benson supervised the distribution of 127 railroad carloads of food, clothing, bedding, and medicine throughout Europe. Years later when President Thomas S. Monson was dedicating a new chapel in Zwickau, Germany, an older brother came forward with tears in his eyes and asked to be remembered to President Ezra Taft Benson. He said to ‘tell him he saved my life, and those of scores of my brothers and sisters in my native land because of the food and clothing he brought to us from members of the Church in America’ [in Gerry Avant, “War Divides, but the Gospel Unites,”Church News,Aug. 19, 1995, 5].

15. “The Dutch Saints had the opportunity to give true Christian service to the starving Saints in Germany. The Dutch members had suffered much during the war and then had received welfare assistance from Church members in the United States. In the spring of 1947, they were asked to begin welfare projects of their own, which they enthusiastically did. They primarily planted potatoes and were expecting a large harvest.

16. “During this time, President Walter Stover of the East German Mission came to Holland and, with tears in his eyes, told of the hunger and desolation of the Church members in Germany. President Cornelius Zappey, the president of the Netherlands Mission, asked his members whether they would supply their growing potatoes to the Germans, who had been their enemies during the war. The members willingly agreed and began to watch their potato crops with increased interest. The harvest wasfar greater than anyone had expected, and the Dutch Saints were able to send 75 tons of potatoes to their brothers and sisters in Germany. One year later, the Dutch Saints sent 90 tons of potatoes and 9 tons of herring to the Saints in Germany. [For further information, Rudd,Pure Religion,254–61.]

Potatoes sent

17. “The outpouring of Christlike love shown by these Saints was typical of President George Albert Smith, who radiated the love of Christ to an extraordinary extent. He said, ‘I can say to you, my brethren and sisters, the happiest people in this world are those who love their neighbors as themselves and manifest their appreciation of God’s blessings by their conduct in life’ [in Conference Report, Apr. 1949, 10]” (Our Heritage,110–14).

Understanding the Reading

The Life of President George Albert Smith

Succeeded(par. 1)Followed 
Paternal grandfather(par. 2)His father’s father 
Episodes(par. 3)Times, occasions 
Eroded(par. 3)Wore away 
Aggravated his tension(par. 3)Increased his frustrations 
Panorama(par. 4)A complete view 
Stamina(par. 4)Strength 
A surplus(par. 9)Extra 
Commodities(par. 11)Food and clothing 
Desolation(par. 16)Suffering, sorrow, grief 
Herring(par. 16)Small fish 

The Teachings and Testimony of George Albert Smith

18. “When I was a child I recognized, or thought I did, that the commandments of the Lord were His laws and regulations for my guidance. I thought I recognized in the disobedience to those laws that punishment would follow, and as a child I presume I may have felt that the Lord had so arranged affairs and so ordained matters in this life that I must obey certain laws or swift retribution would follow. But as I grew older I have learned the lesson from another viewpoint, and now to me the laws of the Lord … are but the sweet music of the voice of our Father in heaven in His mercy to us. They are but the advice and counsel of a loving parent, … and consequently that which at one time med to bear the harsh name of law to me is now the loving and tender advice of an all-wise heavenly Father” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1911, 43–44; alsoMosiah 2:41).

19. “One of the beautiful things to me in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it brings us all to a common level. It is not necessary for a man to be a president of a stake, or a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, in order to attain a high place in the celestial kingdom. The humblest member of the Church, if he keeps the commandments of God, will obtain an exaltation just as much as any other man in the celestial kingdom. The beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it makes us all equal in as far as we keep the commandments of the Lord. In as far as we observe to keep the laws of the Church we have equal opportunities for exaltation” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1933, 25).

George A. Smith

20. “My grandfather [Apostle George A. Smith] used to say to his family, ‘There is a line of demarcation, well defined, between the Lord’s territory and the devil’s. If you will stay on the Lord’s side of the line you will be under his influence and will have no desire to do wrong; but if you cross to the devil’s side of the line one inch, you are in the tempter’s power, and if he is successful, you will not be able to think or even reason properly, because you will have lost the spirit of the Lord.’

21. “When I have been tempted sometimes to do a certain thing, I have asked myself, ‘Which side of the line am I on?’ If I determined to be on the safe side, the Lord’s side, I would do the right thing every time. So when temptation comes, think prayerfully about your problem, and the influence of the spirit of the Lord will enable you to decide wisely. There is safety for us only on the Lord’s side of the line.

22. “If you want to be happy, remember, that all happiness worthy of the name is on the Lord’s side of the line and all sorrow and disappointment is on the devil’s side of the line” (Sharing the Gospel with Others,comp. Preston Nibley (1948), 42–43).

23. “We cannot force people into doing things, but we may love them into doing what is right, and into righteousness” (cited by Elder Arwell L. Pierce, a former president of the Mexican Mission, in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 114).

George Albert Smith

24. “I remember upon one occasion a man said to me, after we had talked for some time, ‘Well, from all I can learn your church is just as good as any other church.’ I presume he thought he was paying us a great compliment, but I said to him: ‘If the church I represent here is not of more importance to the children of men than any other church, then I am mistaken in my duty here. We have come not to take away from you the truth and virtue you possess. We have come not to find fault with you nor to criticize you. We have not come here to berate you because of things you have not done; but we have come here as your brethren. We are giving our time and our means voluntarily, and have come to your land with love in our hearts, with the desire to do you good, to encourage you to repent of your sins, wherein you aresinful, and encourage you to retain your virtues wherein you are virtuous, and to say to you: ‘Keep all the good that you have, and let us bring to you more good, in order that you may be happier and in order that you may be prepared to enter into the presence of our Heavenly Father’” (Sharing the Gospel with Others,12–13).

25. “This very day upon which we meet here to worship, … the Sabbath, has become the play-day of this great nation—the day set apart by thousands to violate the commandment that God gave long, long ago, and I am persuaded that much of the sorrow and distress that is afflicting and will continue to afflict mankind is traceable to the fact that they have ignored his admonition to keep the Sabbath day holy” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1935, 120).

Melchizedek Priesthood restored

26. “After eighty years in mortality, traveling in many parts of the world, associating with many great and good men and women I witness to you, that I know today better than I ever knew before that God lives; that Jesus is the Christ; that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Living God; and that the Church that he organized under the direction of our Heavenly Father, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Church that was driven into the wilderness—is operating under the power and authority of the same priesthood that was conferred by Peter, James, and John upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. I know this, as I know that I live, and I realize that to bear this testimony to you is a very serious matter and that I shall be held accountable by my Heavenly Father for this and all other things that I have taught in his name. Realizing this and knowing that if I were to mislead you that I would be held accountable for it, with love and kindness in my heart for all, I bear this witness in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (“After Eighty Years,”Improvement Era,Apr 1950, 263–64).

Understanding the Reading

The Teachings and Testimony of George Albert Smith

Retribution(par. 18)Punishment 
Demarcation(par. 20)Separation or boundary 
Berate(par. 24)Scold 

Studying the Reading

Do activities A and B as you study “President George Albert Smith.”

Activity A iconHow Might He Answer?

Imagine that you have the opportunity to interview President George Albert Smith. After studying paragraphs 1–17, write down how you think he might answer the following questions:

  1. 1.

    What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?

  2. 2.

    What member of your family has had a great impact on you? Why?

  3. 3.

    What service have you given your fellowmen that you most remember?

  4. 4.

    Why do you think it is important to radiate love and show charity to others?

Activity B iconApply the Teachings

From your reading of “The Teachings and Testimony of George Albert Smith,” choose five of his teachings that were significant and meaningful to you. For each teaching, describe a present-day situation that could be helped or answered by what President Smith taught. After each situation, explain how the truths President Smith taught could help a person to do what is right.